Today, I walked into town to buy gifts. The sky was grey but I didn’t mind, as the gloom was eclipsed by prim-lipped tulips and scrawls of magnolia. It was such a treat to be out, after burrowing at home with Covid. Feeling jubilant, I smiled broadly at a woman with child. Her returning stare of suspicion was palpable.
But I didn’t mind. I was going to browse in one of my favourite gift shops. If you live here, you will know the one I mean. You may wander past the window like I do, perfecting a backwards walk to stare at the candles, throws and such artfully arranged homeware that you wonder how you’ve survived all these years without a cork trivet. Or a kimono.
I was pleased to have a reason to go in, taking time to admire everything. Finally, I chose some small gifts for my friend and approached the till, The lady was engrossed in something behind the counter and didn’t see me. Here’s how our conversation went: –
Me: Oh sorry, can I buy this? (What was I apologising for? The fact that she hadn’t seen me? This was not my fault)
Assistant: (graciously) Yes, of course! (This is the point of the shop, you know, to buy things)
Me: (placing items on the counter) Thank you (Why was I thanking her? I was bringing my custom to her shop. I was doing her a favour.)
Assistant: (taking them) Would you like them gift-wrapped?
Me: Oh, that would be very kind! (clamps lips together to stop them asking if it would cost)
Assistant: (expertly wielding tissue paper and ribbon while gazing at my purchases fondly) They’re lovely aren’t they?
Me: (apologetically -as if denying her the chance to buy them herself) Oh yes they are!
Assistant: (about to ring up the price on the till) Is there anything else I can do for you today?
Me: (really wanting to go off script here: Well, you could pop to Boots. I need more nasal rinse and then get the dinner on? Also, could you tidy away the birthday stuff from the lounge. It looks like Armageddon in there On Day 2) But instead I said: Oh no, thank you
Assistant: Well, if you’re sure, that will be £_ please (She turns the card machine helpfully towards me and taps it with a red nail)
Me: (tapping) Thank you so much!
Assistant: (graciously) You are most welcome
How very odd this conversation was, when you think about it. Or perhaps it was this: emerging from ten days of isolation, I was acutely aware of every exchange with an actual human being who wasn’t my husband.
But we interact like this to be polite. And politeness is important because of kindness. I’ve been listening to a fascinating series on the radio, The Anatomy of Kindness, which reports on ‘The Kindness Test’. With research from neuroscientists and evolutionary psychologists, it discusses kindness and its benefits. Politeness is a key part of this, as is smiling. When we go out of our way to phrase things carefully, defer to others and try to come across kindly, it makes a huge difference to the quality of our relationships.
It fascinates me that there are occasions when we justify being less than kind – making a complaint for example, or addressing cold callers. I caught myself being almost rude to an actual human being on the end of the phone the other day. Yes, I thought her annoying, but she was only doing her job. I could have been politely firm instead of impatient and curt.
Interestingly, it appears the kindness-giver gets as much benefit as the kindness-getter. Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine causing the reward centres in our brains to literally light up with pleasure. And it releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killer. We’re literally designed to be kind
So, notes to self: –
- Thank people in shops for selling you lovely things (or nasal rinse which is not lovely but necessary – I wrote a post about this once)
- Be polite to cold callers and other unexpected humans
- Smile at strangers, even if they think you strange
What small acts of kindness mean the most to you?
Thank you for reading this post. If you enjoyed it, you might like my novel, Braver, which will be published by the wonderful Fairlight Books (click to find out more) on the 30 June 2022. Braver tells a tale of unlikely friendships and heart-breaking decisions. With themes around mental health, identity and the need to belong, it explores how a local community responds when something threatens its very heart.
You can also pre-order it on amazon worldwide. Here is the link on amazon.co.uk